Burgettstown's Owen Miller finished fifth at the WPIAL Class AA championships.
By Joe Koch Tri-State Sports & News Service
Nearly everyone who knows anything about the Burgettstown Area High School boys golf team expected senior standout Owen Miller to play well in the WPIAL Class AA golf championship tournament and earn a berth at the PIAA Class AA Western Regionals that will be played Oct. 16 at Tom's Run Golf Course in Blairsville.
Although Miller wanted to win the WPIAL championship, he passed the test that earned him a trip to Blairsville with a 6-over-par round of 78 that netted him a fifth-place finish.
What might have surprised some is that he'll be accompanied for the Oct. 15 tournament by Cody Dobbin, a sophomore who finished third, one stroke ahead of Miller with a 5-over-par round of 77 and two strokes behind Leechburg's Matt Barto and Charleroi's Gunnar Riley, who participated in a one-hole playoff that Barto won on a birdie putt.
Count Burgettstown coach Jon Vallina as someone not surprised with Dobbin's skill in playing against -- and defeating -- most of the best players in the WPIAL Class AA boys ranks.
"Cody is a mature kid for a sophomore," said Vallina, who stepped down as the school's athletic director after the last school year but stayed on as the golf coach. "He played in a lot of tournaments over the summer, and he's gained a lot of experience."
Vallina was impressed with Dobbin's mettle on the demanding Sewickley Heights Golf Club course. It certainly was a change from what he'd seen from Dobbin earlier.
"The big thing with Cody was his own confidence in his game," Vallina said. "He didn't seem to be sure that he could compete with kids at the WPIAL tournament, but he had a good round. That should help him with his confidence."
Dobbin didn't play in last year's Western Regional, but he did walk the course while his teammates were participating in the regional tournament.
"He didn't qualify last year, but I took him along with the three who did, and he played a practice round the day before the tournament," the coach recalled. "I think he'll be fine there."
He'll be going with Miller, who did play in the regional tournament in 2012, and was still a little miffed about his round at the WPIAL final.
"I didn't play very good today," he said. "I birdied the first hole, and I missed a birdie attempt on the second hole. I still thought I'd shoot around even par [on the front nine]."
His plan was working as he was even-par through seven holes. That's when two WPIAL officials drove up and informed Miller, Barto and Serra Catholic's Max Kaminsky that they were about 30 minutes behind schedule and needed to speed things up.
Miller said the reprimand had a direct effect on his game.
"I bombed my next two holes," he said, noting the two bogeys he took on the eighth and ninth holes. "I had momentum going, and I was focusing. I hit a good tee shot on No. 8,and I go to the green and I'm thinking 'The rules official is sitting there and we're on the clock. If we don't hurry up, I'm going to get penalized.'"
Things didn't go quite that far, but Vallina said an encounter with an official likely will be something Miller must contend with as he plays more tournament golf.
"He has to understand the rules and be prepared to hit," Vallina said. "When you get warned, you shouldn't panic or feel pressure. Things like [warnings] are going to happen more often either at [the regional tournament] or the state championship."
Sewickley senior qualifies
Keenan Hickton is a talented golfer at Sewickley Academy who is looking forward to his chances at the PIAA's Western Regional tournament at Tom's Run.
A senior from Thornburg, Hickton finished fourth at the WPIAL Class AA Boys Individual Championships on Sept. 25 with a 6-over-par round of 78 at Sewickley Heights Golf Club.
"I feel I didn't bring my best stuff," said Hickton, who finished three strokes behind the totals posted by Leechburg's Barto and Charleroi's Riley.
"At the end of the day, though, I'm happy because I am moving on," he said.
Two teammates also qualified for the regional tournament.
Junior Anthony Muscato placed ninth with an 80, and fellow senior Sam Duerr finished 13th with a round of 81.